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Cong divided on rural poll tie-up

Calcutta, Aug. 10: Leaders in districts where the Congress is a force to reckon with want to contest the panchayat elections alone while the leadership and the grassroot-level workers in south Bengal are in favour of an alliance with Trinamul, state Congress sources said today.

The state Congress executive committee will meet tomorrow to discuss strategies for the rural polls, which Mamata Banerjee has said will be advanced and held after the Pujas.

Congress leaders from Murshidabad, North Dinajpur and Malda, where the party holds greater sway than Trinamul, have decided to impress upon the state leadership the need to contest the polls independently.

Another section of the leadership, mainly from south Bengal, is of the opinion that an alliance with Trinamul would help corner the Left further.

Asit Pal, the Congress president of East Midnapore, said the majority of the grassroots workers were “still in favour of tying up with Trinamul” for the rural polls. Trinamul controls the zilla parishad in the district.

He said a split in anti-Left votes would hurt both Congress and Trinamul.

“I will request the leadership to make efforts to stitch an alliance with Trinamul, provided the party treats us with respect,” Pal said.

Asked about Mamata’s announcement at the July 21 martyrs’ day rally that Trinamul would fight elections in the state without any alliance, Pal said: “The doors should still be kept open for discussion with Trinamul.”

Dilip Nath, the Hooghly Congress president, said: “Although we did not have an alliance with Trinamul in the 2008 rural polls, we did tie up for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and the 2011 Assembly elections. People have already reposed their faith in the Congress-Trinamul combine for the welfare of the state. So we should not do anything without taking into account the ground situation in the districts.”

State Congress general secretary D.P. Roy, who hails from Jalpaiguri, warned of the Left reaping political dividends if there is no alliance. “The lack of an alliance in the rural polls will send a wrong signal to the people. I will suggest at tomorrow’s meeting that in districts such as Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur, where we are a force to reckon with, our party can fight alone. But elsewhere in the district, we can try for a tie-up with Trinamul,” he said.

Raigunj MP Deepa Das Munshi, who has testy ties with Mamata, refused to buy Roy’s argument. “A political party cannot have a dual policy. It is not desirable that we confront Trinamul in Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur but collaborate with it elsewhere,” she said.

State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya, who is expected to chair tomorrow’s session at Bidhan Bhavan in the absence of AICC Bengal in-charge Shakeel Ahmed, said he would ask district presidents to submit in writing their observations on the ground-level situation in the districts. “I want to make it clear that we will take the views of the grassroots workers before taking a decision on the polls. We will not impose anything on anybody,” he said.

A Trinamul vice-president said the “final decision” on an alliance was yet to be taken. “We will speak to our district leadership first.”